For writers of fiction, work is more of a mission than a job. Whether your genre is cowboy fantasy or vampire erotica, your aim is to create a distinct vision of life worth sharing with the larger world. Your wager is that people will take enough of interest in it to actually pay money for it, and that you will go on to live life solely by your pen. Making the wager pay-off can be a laborious and lengthy process. You should, however, take heart. The success of the planet’s top-selling authors gives all who labor in the craft hope that the art of writing books and the travail of selling them will eventually bring the desired cash and celebrity.
So, buck up, tuck up, and take note. The stories of the world’s top ten wealthiest writers have something to teach those of us who remain, for the moment, down amongst the literary proletariat.
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10. Nicholas Sparks
The former pharmaceutical salesman got his big break in 1996 when his first book, The Notebook, was published to great popular acclaim. Literary lore has it that his literary agent picked this book out of her slush pile, enjoyed it, and offered to represent him. Sparks is also the author of such dramatic tear-jerkers as A Walk to Remember and Message In A Bottle, both of which were made into films. The saccharine romanticism of his storylines reminds one of the rather plain looks of the author himself. But, love him or hate him, there is no way of getting around the fact that his international bestsellers have made him worth $30 million.
9. Ken Follett
Welsh author Ken Follett began his writing career as a reporter. He worked first for his home town newspaper in Cardiff and later for the London Evening News. It was in the latter city that he wrote his first novel. He would have to wait until his eleventh book before reaching international fame. The reward was certainly worth the wait. After his first best-seller, Eye of the Needle, came out in 1977 Follett went on to produce a string of blockbuster novels, including his historical romance, The Pillars of the Earth. As of 2015, the 66 year-old novelist is worth $45 million.
8. Janet Evanovich
Janet Evanovich began her career writing short romance novels under the pen name Steffie Hall. She became a success in the action genre after creating the Stephanie Plum series, which features a former lingerie seller turned bounty hunter. Say what you want about fan-driven fiction writing—and most writers are not without words on the subject: it pays off. Having accumulated $100 million, there’s no doubt that diligent Evanovich is ever so talented in getting her readers to buy her books.
7. Stephenie Meyer
The creator of the Twilight series needs little introduction to the millions of fans who have been captivated by her stories of teenage vampire love and mystery. Although the strait-laced Mormon mother of three abstains from caffeine and alcohol, with a net worth of $125 million she obviously has no truck with distributing the more benign drug of literary ecstasy. Meyer had not published so much as a short story before the release of Twilight in 2003. Since then, the 41 year old author has sold more than 100 million books and has turned her series into a remarkably successful film enterprise.
6. Dean Koontz
Born in Everett, Pennsylvania, Koontz first won literary distinction when only a whelp at Shippensburg University. After graduating from college, Koontz counselled underprivileged children, and then worked as a high school English teacher. In 1970, his wife Gerda offered to support him for five years so that he could try to make something of his career as a writer. At the end of that time, she was managing the business end of her husband’s much expanded enterprise. In 1980, his breakthrough novel, Whispers, hit the bookshelves. Since then, 13 of his books have reached the New York Times Bestseller List. He has an estimated worth of $145 million.
5. John Grisham
At $220 million, John Grisham is the 5th wealthiest novelist in the world. Before he started writing, he had already enjoyed an accomplished career as a lawyer and as a member of the Mississippi House of Representatives. Grisham credits the testimony of a 12-year old rape victim for inspiring him to write. His first novel, A Time To Kill, was turned down repeatedly until finally picked up and published by Wynwood Press in 1988. His second novel, The Firm, was published in 1991 and became the 7th best-selling novel that year. Further legal thrillers followed, many of which were made into blockbuster movies. Indeed, one cannot think of the 90s without remembering the string of A-list actors who starred in the many Grisham films of the decade.
4. Danielle Steel
Now 68, this highly popular and successful writer exudes a glamour, glow, and naughty granny attractiveness that make her irresistible to look at. Steel spent much of her early childhood in France. Later, after her parents divorced, she moved to New York City, where she studied literature and fashion design at New York University. She works hard as a writer. Often juggling up to five projects at a time and releasing several books a year. Her formula, which has proven remarkably effective—to the tune of $385 million—consists of wealthy families facing a crisis of some sort; blackmail, fraud, and suicide are common themes. One cannot help wondering whether her tumultuous love life—she has had five husbands, one of which is a convicted rapist—gives her stories the edge they need to keep readers coming back.
3. Stephen King
Stephen King once said that he sometimes scares himself when he writes. It takes no stretch of imagination to believe that. For anyone who has read or seen The Shining, The Stand, or It knows how long they insisted the night light be left on when they went to bed. King’s books have sold more than 350 million copies, and many have been adapted into films, television series, and comic books. His first novel, Carrie, was published in 1973. It launched the public career of a writer who would come to dominate the genres of horror and supernatural fiction. With an estimated net worth of $400 million, Stephen King is a financial powerhouse in the field of literature.
2. James Patterson
James Patterson is largely known for his fictional psychologist Alex Cross. Morgan Freeman playing the lead role in two well-received films—Kiss The Girls (1997) and Along Came A Spider (2001)—made the series even more popular. Tyler Perry, who really ought to give up acting and go back to writing, did it less justice. In any case, with a net worth of $430 million, Patterson continues to thrive. And he has the distinction of holding the Guinness World Record for being the first author to sell a million e-books.
1. J.K. Rowling
There has never been a more successful author in history than J.K. Rowling. Her highly popular Harry Potter series shattered records in both the U.S. and U.K. Her fifth book, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, sold over five million copies on the first day of its release in 2003. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, released in 2005, sold nine million copies in its first twenty four hours on the market. A sort of mob mania became associated with the release of Harry Potter books, and it has made Rowling the richest writer on the planet. Her new series of detective fiction promises future release day stampedes and multi-million dollar riches. Rowling’s social consciousness makes her a great soul of generosity, so it is hard to estimate her exact worth. Most estimates put it somewhere near $1 billion.
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Many of the writers on this list struggled to find publishers and then fought to overcome further roadblocks to popular success. They never gave in, and they were eventually able to turn their love for words and story-telling into franchises that have earned them millions of dollars. In nearly every case, success came late and occurred after they had tried their hands at different jobs. The lesson to be learned from these wealthy authors is to keep working. You never know when you’ll catch fire.
Are you a writer? What do you think of the stories above? I look forward to your comments below.